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Game and Fish boat inspection program works to keep invasive species out of Wyoming waters

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LARAMIE, Wyoming — Last year, a boat bound for Wyoming waters stopped at a checkpoint for a mandatory inspection by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

The boat had left Lake Mead in Nevada the day before, which is infested with trillions of quagga mussels, an invasive species that's crippling the lake's ecosystem. A few adult mussels had stowed away on the boat.

Left hidden, they could have found their way into a local lake to reproduce unchecked, their sheer numbers eventually becoming enough to ruin their new home.

A mandatory inspection for boats entering Wyoming is part of the state's Aquatic Invasive Species program, which is entering its fifth year. The program is administered by Game and Fish with the main goal of keeping zebra and quagga mussels out of Wyoming.

So far, the program appears to be working.

"We haven't found any evidence of zebra or quagga mussels, which are our biggest concern because we know they would be the most damaging," coordinator Beth Bear told the Laramie Boomerang (http://bit.ly/1oUM2hG).

Brought to North America from seas in Europe and Asia in the 1980s, the tiny, freshwater mussels were first spotted in the Great Lakes region. Researchers suspect they were transported in the ballast water of a transoceanic ship.

They colonize in large clusters, ruin infrastructure and destroy fisheries, and they're nearly impossible to eradicate once they've become established.

To make matters worse, they're in Colorado, Nebraska, Nevada, Arizona and Utah.

Bear said Game and Fish samples more than 60 Wyoming waters each year and has yet to find evidence of zebra and quagga mussels.

"It's a good place to be at," she said. "I really think it shows that you can prevent them, and it's not this impossible thing. We can slow them and stop them."

The mussels are most commonly spread by boats that travel between disconnected bodies of water. They attach to hulls or stow in bilge water. Young mussels swim in the water and are so small they can be seen only with a microscope.

All boats entering Wyoming from March 1-Nov. 30 must inspected before entering the water. Year-round, any boat that was in infested waters in the last 30 days must be inspected.

Inspections can be done at Game and Fish regional offices or at authorized sites. Additionally, inspection stations at the state border and popular recreation spots are scheduled to be open April 26-Sept. 15.

"We encourage people to plan ahead, especially before our check stations open," Bear said. "We want you to come and boat here, but make sure you plan to get your inspection."

Boats that enter the state multiple times must be inspected each time they re-enter, and vehicles traveling with any watercraft must stop whenever they encounter an open inspection station.

Inspectors check that water has been drained from the boat and that there's no mud, plant matter or debris left behind. Boats should be dried after each use, according to the department. Five days of drying in the summer sun will kill anything left behind.

Bear said letting a boat dry is important even for boats that don't leave the state, because mussels or other invasive species can be in water for some time before they're detected.

"Even if you just move within Wyoming, you really need to make sure that your boat is drained, cleaned and dry," she said.

Last year, inspections turned up more than a dozen boats with mussels on them, mostly coming from the Great Lakes area. In all cases but one, the mussels were dead.

Flaming Gorge Reservoir in southwest Wyoming is an area of particular concern, Bear said, because of its popularity and its proximity to Lake Powell on the Utah and Arizona border where adult mussels have been spotted on canyon walls.

"We know we had well over 300 boats that we inspected that came from Lake Powell last year," Bear said.

Boaters can speed the inspection process by being ready ahead of time.

"If your boat is drained, cleaned and dried, it's a pretty quick inspection. We do everything we can to make that easier for boaters," Bear said.


Information from: Laramie Boomerang, http://www.laramieboomerang.com

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